One of the biggest struggles for marketers is creating content that inspires a specific action. We want people to read, watch, listen, or play content and tie it to lead generation or customer retention. Easier said than done, right?
Stories inspire audience action when four things take place: 1) the audience identifies with the main character 2) the audience is emotionally and mentally engaged in the story 3) the audience witnesses the main character overcoming conflict and obstacles that lead to the outcome that the audience desires 4) the content includes a clear call-to-action that the audience believes once he or she makes that action will lead to his or her desired outcome.
Audience and Character Alignment
Guess what? Nine of out ten times your brand isn’t the main character of the story, and neither is your product. Your brand or product will be a character, but your audience (in most cases is a specific buyer persona) will be the main character. This is important because your audience must identify with the main character if he or she is going to care about the story and mimic the behaviors of that character. This means the main character should have similar views, beliefs, habits, and problems as the target persona.
I want to point out that just because your main character reflects your target audience doesn’t mean the main character must live in the same place, time period, or reality as the target audience. In fact, it can sometimes be more effective to take the audience out of their real-world setting, as long as they still have the personality traits, beliefs, values, and priorities as the specific buyer persona. Setting, of course, depends on if you’re taking a non-fictional or a fictional approach with this storytelling campaign. Case studies, for example, will always be non-fictional. But some of your commercials may be fiction based on non-fiction.
Emotional and Mental Engagement
Emotional and mental engagement are accomplished many ways. You want to activate multiple parts of a person’s brain to get them invested in the characters’ and story’s outcome. To get your audience emotionally and mentally engaged, you need to trigger the imagination. Imagination is a powerful, powerful thing and makes the audience feel like he/she is really there in the scene, almost like a natural virtual reality.
- Believable characters: You already know that your audience and character need to be aligned. But let’s take that a step further. Your characters must also be complex, meaning they have different dimensions that make them real. Consider some of the most memorable characters from your favorite stories. They probably had unique quirks, rich histories, admirable (if not almost heroic) character traits as well as some not so admirable character traits. They were complex. These characters might have well been based on real people. This is where all your buyer persona data will come in handy.
- Design: Whether the story is created via a video, webpage, or graphic the design must be designed to move the story forward effortlessly. If your story has its own website, app, or game make sure that the platform is intuitive to navigate and a personable user experience. Remember, you’re trying to trigger a person’s imagination and that can’t be done if the person is interrupted by a distracting or unfriendly design. I suggest keeping the pop-up call-to-action for the end of the story.
- Audio: Sound is one of the most powerful components to content. Use music, character voice, and the setting’s sounds to pull the audience in and make them feel they are really there in the character’s shoes. Not using video or podcast? No problem. People imagine audio in their head while they are reading text that describes the setting’s sounds. There’s also what we call the “voice” of the narrative.
- Nouns: Nouns are underrated in content marketing, but they are incredibly effective in pulling people into a story’s reality. Nouns also help us create connections between two places, people, or items not previously associated together. This is a great way to help your audience think of your brand when they hear, smell, see, read, or touch something.
- Presentation of information: Our brains love to figure out puzzles. We are captivated by conflict. Information should be dived out strategically as to keep the audience in anticipation. Keep them analyzing and calculating what may come next. This mental investment keeps the audience engaged mentally and emotionally.
Conflict and Obstacles
Conflict is what drives a story forward and keeps us interested in the outcome. Think about the books you stayed up late finishing because you couldn’t put it down, or the TV series you binge-watched all weekend until your eyes were bloodshot. What do these stories have in common? Conflict. But don’t just take my word for it. Write down your can’t-put-down/can’t-stop-watching stories and list what it was that made them so addictive. I’ll bet it had to do with conflict development and the presentation of that conflict.
A lot of marketers shy away from conflict, or at least don’t allow the conflict to escalate. They keep in some perceived safe zone, which is a shame. Conflict is powerful because your audience is constantly under conflict in real life. They’re experiencing conflict at work, in the home, in personal and professional relationships. So why would your character — who the audience is supposed to identify with — not have conflict in his or her life, as well?
The great thing about conflict is not only does it keep us interested in finishing the story to find out what happens (we all love being kept on the edge of our seats), but it also gives us the sensation of what it would be like to almost fail but triumph despite the obstacles. (Remember, at this time you should have already created a scenario where your audience identifies with the main character.) This is especially powerful for brands that are selling a product or service that may be considered “risky” in the eyes of its buyers. You can have the potential buyer experience the release of stress when all the conflict and obstacles are resolved as though he or she experienced the situation first-hand. This is how you get to the most important part, the call-to-action.
Calls-to-action are important in every form of content. We ask someone to sign up for an email list or content download, click to the next page, submit a contact form, or simply share the post because that’s one of the main ways we measure content effectiveness.
But I’ll argue that calls-to-action are especially important in stories. The call-to-action is often presented in a way that makes the audience feel they are completing the next step of the story. Just like the character in the story, by completing the call-to-action the audience is one step closer to reaching a desired goal.
Does Your Content Inspire Action?
How does your content inspire action?
Contact me today to learn how we can work together to ensure your content (stories included) are motivating your audience to take actions that help grow your business.